Preview: Learn the six simple steps to simplify homeschool planning so you can homeschool your children with confidence.
The most common questions I hear from parents about homeschool planning relate to what they need to teach.
There’s so much available. I don’t know how to narrow down what to use!
What do I actually have to teach?
Unfortunately, there is no right answer to these questions. Every family and every child is different, and what you need to teach will vary by state. (You can find the requirements for your state at Home School Legal Defense Association.)
There are, however, some simple steps you can follow to guide you through the process of choosing the curriculum that is right for your family and planning your homeschool year.
In this article, you will learn how to simplify homeschool planning by breaking the planning process down into small steps.
6 Simple Steps To Plan Your Homeschool Year
1. Know your overall goals.
Before you begin planning your homeschool year, you should identify what you want to achieve. Different goals and objectives require different approaches and sometimes even different curriculums.
When you know what you want to achieve, you will have greater confidence to make decisions about your homeschool plans. You’ll be able to make choices that are right for each of your children.
I begin my yearly planning session by reviewing our homeschool mission statement to remember our reasons for homeschooling and the goals we want to achieve. I can identify areas we should focus on for the coming year to progress toward achieving our goals.
Your homeschool is unique!
God has a unique plan for your homeschool. He is not calling you to make your homeschool look like anyone else’s. It is okay to let go of the guilt and shame of comparison and embrace the struggles and unique challenges your family faces. It is okay to embrace the passions and gifts he has given your family.
Listen to episode 31 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, and hear how Becky Redman learned to thrive and walk in faith that God has a purpose for her family.
2. Create your school calendar.
Before I start planning any specifics, I determine our school calendar.
We prefer to have an extended break in the summer, so I schedule lessons five days a week for thirty-six weeks. Your family may prefer a four-day-a-week schedule for forty-five weeks, or you might want to plan academics for a four-day week and leave one day to catch up or take field trips.
The right choice is the one that works best for your family.
3. Prepare your yearly overview.
Now you are ready to start planning what your children will learn this year. Start by identifying the goals and objectives you want to accomplish for the year. I also take into consideration other factors that might warrant a lighter academic schedule.
Some questions I ask during this stage include:
- Will we have a focus on a particular subject?
- Should I schedule a lighter load due to upcoming changes (such as a move or a new baby)?
- Will we begin new activities (such as music lessons or a sport) that will affect our school schedule?
- Are there habits or skills my children need or want to learn?
Most importantly, I seek God’s wisdom and guidance. There have been years that I felt him leading me to plan a lighter year. Other years, I felt him pushing us a little. In both situations, the schedule was just right for us for that year.
How to use mind maps when planning your homeschool year.
I sometimes use mind maps during this stage of planning to help me see the big picture and how different subjects are related. They also allow me to think outside the box and remember that not all learning is academic.
A mind map is also referred to as a metacog, concept map, or cognitive cartography. I love that last term—cognitive cartography—because it reinforces the idea that whatever we are mapping is not two-dimensional, it has depth.
Benefits of mind maps
A mind map has many benefits, including that it:
- Creates a visual picture so you remember information better. After all, most of us think in pictures.
- Is unique to you and the way you think and process information.
- Allows you to organize information in a nonlinear way. You can branch out in any way you desire.
- Allows you to make connections and relationships with the information.
How to create a mind map
The first time you create a mind map, it can be intimidating, but it becomes easier the more you do it. Here are some guidelines for making a mind map.
- Start in the middle of the page.
- Use short phrases, not sentences.
- Draw thicker lines near the main idea and thinner lines as you move farther out on the map.
- Write in print, not cursive.
- Add color to the branches.
- Use a highlighter to emphasize key thoughts.
- Add sticky notes for important information you want to remember.
- Draw pictures, graphs, and diagrams.
- Make it unique to you.
You may be thinking, “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw pictures.” or “But I can’t use a pen! What if I make a mistake?” I had these thoughts as well, but I tried anyway. Even though they are rough and not beautiful, the pictures do add meaning to the map. And mistakes are part of life.
Here is a mind map I made for our 2016-2017 school year.
Choose the subjects you will cover.
Make a list of the subjects you want to cover, and include details such as the time period for history, the focus for science and nature study, and which artists and composers you will study.
Below is a list of subjects we cover in our homeschool. Before you look at the list, let me explain a few things.
- We do not cover every subject every day or even every week.
- Most lessons are short.
- We do not necessarily cover every subject every year.
- I try to include subjects to nourish the whole child—body, mind, spirit.
This is a list of possible subjects you might cover in your homeschool. You get to choose which ones you will include. (Obviously, check to ensure you meet your state’s requirements when determining which subjects you will cover in your homeschool.)
- Faith Building / Character
- Scripture Memory
- Hymn Study
- Character Development
- Habit Training
- Fine Arts
- Art Instruction
- Composer Study
- Folk Songs
- Foreign Language
- Music Instruction
- Picture Study
- Language Arts
- Reading Instruction
- Test prep (in high school)
- Life Skills & Handicrafts
- Computer / Typing
- Health / PE / Physical Activity
- Life Skills
- Nature Study
- US History
- World History
I use a spreadsheet to plan our lessons. I begin this step of the process by copying the yearly overview from the previous year and deleting the specific resources, so all that remains is the list of subjects.
Then, I delete any subjects we will not cover and add any we didn’t cover the previous year. Then I fill in basic details such as the time period in history, composers, artists, and poets.
Choose resources to use for each subject.
Next, choose resources for each subject if you are not using a boxed curriculum. It can be helpful to look through book lists and suggestions from other trusted sources. All Through The Ages by Christine Miller is a great resource to find living books for history and geography.
Also, I keep a list of resources I want to use in the future to refer to when I am planning.
What should I use to homeschool my preschool-aged child?
I’ve heard from many homeschool parents asking what homeschool curriculum they should use with their preschooler. In episode 80 of the All in a Homeschool Day podcast, I share what we used to homeschool preschool in a developmentally appropriate and not time-consuming way.
4. Determine your weekly homeschool schedule.
Now that you have determined which resources you will use, design a draft of your weekly schedule. Decide which subjects you want to cover on which days and how long you expect each to take.
We rarely stick to this schedule precisely, but it helps me plan our school year in several ways.
- First, I can see when I have too much scheduled. I then have to decide what is most important for us to do and what I need to remove from the schedule.
- Second, I can see when each child needs my assistance and rearrange lessons as needed so that my children do not need my help simultaneously.
- Finally, I can make sure there is variety in their lessons in both content and brain activity. For example, I try not to schedule two readings in a row.
You can use a spreadsheet or sticky notes to plan your weekly schedule. Both allow you to move subjects around until you find an order that might work.
Keep the following considerations in mind when designing your weekly schedule.
- Keep lessons short. (10-20 minutes for grades 1-3, 20-30 minutes for grades 4-6, 20-45 minutes for grades 7-9, and 30-45 minutes for grades 10-12)
- Include time for narrations in the lesson length.
- Plan for breaks.
- Provide variety in lessons and change in brain function. For example, complete a history reading, then a math lesson, then a biography reading, then copy work or dictation.
- Always plan less because life happens.
- Include extracurricular activities so that you can see how much free time your child has.
At this point, I step back and look at the big picture again. Sometimes my idea of what I want to cover during a homeschool year does not align with the reality of what we can realistically accomplish.
5. Plan the specifics of your homeschool year.
There are several ways to plan the specifics of your homeschool year. You could plan which books you will read and what you will cover during each term. Or you could create procedure lists to use as a guide.
Initially, I planned the details for each term. This worked well, and we mostly stayed on track when we were primarily reading picture books together. But as my daughters began completing more of their lessons independently, this strategy did not work as well. Some resources were more challenging, and they needed more time to complete the reading.
Switching to using procedure lists allowed us more flexibility. I create a list of books and resources that I want to use for each subject and list them in the order they should be completed. I also include any instructions necessary for the subject.
When I assign lessons for the week, all I need to do is look at the procedure list to know what to assign. Sometimes, I only include the name of the subject on the assignment list because they know to complete the next lesson. Other times, I write out the details of the lesson if the assignment varies so that they don’t have to find the list of what to do.
6. Evaluate your progress.
Schedule time to evaluate your student’s progress at the end of each term and the end of the school year. I have not always completed homeschool evaluations, but they have become invaluable in our homeschool routine. Before planning the next term’s details, I sit down to evaluate how the term went and what, if anything, I want to change for the upcoming term.
What if you determine your homeschool plans aren’t working? It happens to every homeschool family at some point in their homeschool journey. I keep three things in mind when our homeschool days are not running smoothly. Learn what they are and how to implement them in your home on this post.
Bonus: End-of-Year Wrap-up
It is tempting to close the books and run away from the learning for a while at the end of the school year. I get it! We do usually take a few weeks completely off to rest and recharge. And then I do two things.
- I start brainstorming summer learning plans with my children. And it’s not what you think. I take the summer off from teaching, but that doesn’t mean the learning stops. Learn more on this post.
- I print off our homeschool records for the year and prepare homeschool portfolios. I’ve learned from previous experience that if I don’t get that done before the next school year begins, several years worth of papers may pile up before I take care of that necessary task. Learn how you can simplify homeschool recordkeeping.
Do you have questions about homeschooling?
Watch the FREE Homeschool 101 Workshop. It’s an on-demand workshop you can watch at your convenience.
Ready to start homeschooling but not sure how?
Check out the Homeschool Roadmap. It walks you through establishing your homeschool with confidence and joy, one step at a time.